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Web Letter

Peter C. Baker begins his review of William Poundstone's book by acknowledging that Instant Runoff Voting is the voting method "with the strongest combination of academic and popular support." Indeed, IRV has strong support from academics, activists, and voters alike, and after decades of use in countries such as Australia and Ireland, it is being adopted by an increasing number of cities and towns across the United States.

One might expect, therefore, that criticism of IRV would focus on any of the hundreds of IRV elections held in recent years. Yet Poundstone's primary example of IRV's "flaws" isn't a real IRV election at all but, to quote Baker, a "reimagining [of] the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial race under IRV." Poundstone can't provide cut-and-dry examples from real IRV elections because these supposed flaws are non-issues in practice. While there is tremendous concern in the US over our system, there is no detectable concern over the flaws of IRV in Australia or anywhere else it is used.

Baker's review suffers primarily due to an over-reliance on a single website whose content is largely unvalidated. The website, run by former math professor Warren Smith, promotes Range Voting, a method not currently used to elect any public official anywhere in the world. Baker fails to note that Smith's work on Range Voting has never been published in any peer-reviewed publication. At the same time, Baker is apparently unaware of recent research, by published scholars in the field of social choice theory, that pans Range Voting for its susceptibility to strategic voting. And in contrast to Baker's characterization, Smith is not some non-partisan academic, but very much a political animal with his own agenda and biases.

Over-reliance on unvalidated sources of information is not what I've come to expect from The Nation.

Greg Dennis

Somerville, MA

Jun 6 2008 - 11:17pm